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Notes > Foundations of Computing > Collecting Data

A survey is an investigation of a subject by collecting data which can be turned into information. A survey called a census examines every member of the population. Population surveys such as a traffic census for example are "exhaustive surveys".

Looking at smaller representative groups within a population is known as sampling. A sample can correctly be used to draw conclusions regarding the whole population as long as the data collection has been undertaken properly. This depends on the relevance of the questions asked as well as the method of data collection used.

The decision of choosing a data collection method is affected by the factors of cost and time involved. The data collection method should always enable you to achieve your objectives successfully.

Taking a sample has several advantages over a full census. Samples cost less and they take less time less resources. The accuracy of samples can be very good as long as an appropriate sample is specified properly initially and is a representative sample.

Some methods of data collection are as follows:

  • Postal surveys
  • Personal interviews (Street / formal in-person)
  • Telephone interviews
  • Direct observation
Whichever method of data collection is decided upon there are still many factors to take into consideration:
  • How many people will respond to your survey
  • How complex or open-ended your questions are, as this could lead to problems in analysing the responses
  • The length of the questionnaire
  • Sensitive questions could make people feel uncomfortable
  • People should be assured of their anonymity in order to make them feel comfortable with answering the questions truthfully
  • Costs should be kept to a minimum
  • It is possible that people may just not be interested
  • The question order and effect this has on the answers that people give
  • Answers gained must be valid
When designing a questionnaire, the fewer questions the better. Questions included should be directly related to the topic being surveyed. Questions should be clear and concise, written in everyday formal language to avoid misunderstanding. Any vague questions should be removed otherwise these questions could be misinterpreted leading to possible invalid questions. Leading questions should also be removed otherwise the person may be pressured into answering a question a certain way.

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